I did my best to encourage her, though if there are magic words to remove such a burden, I’ve yet to discover them. But I sensed this issue had grown so large in her mind that she saw it as the one barrier to her happiness. She seemed to believe if this one problem could be fixed, everything else would be okay. I picked up on this because I used to feel the same way.
It’s often easy for me to see when a younger woman is basing her happiness on the fulfillment of a particular desire, because I used to be such a woman. I thought that whenever I got married, had a baby, got a house, got a new job, etc., THEN I would be content. All of those milestones once loomed large in my mind, and all of them have long since passed. And yet I’m still discontent. I still grumble.
But my middle years have ushered in a new kind of idol -- the idol of looking back. I see all the mistakes I made and roads not taken. If only had a been a better parent, not wasted so much time, bought stock in Amazon when it first went public -- you name it -- then I would be so much better off than I am right now.
Looking back at my mistakes, though, can be just as sinful pining away for a hope deferred. It shows that I’m not putting my hope and happiness with Christ and his grace, but in my own circumstances, or at least, what I imagine my circumstances could have been. I’m not rejoicing that in Christ my sins are forgiven and that he’s working all things for my good and his glory (Romans 8:28), but instead murmuring about what I should have done differently.
Learning from our mistakes is a good thing. Seeing the fruit of our bad choices reminds us of the seriousness of our sin. In the case of the young mother, because I had been in a similar situation and often handled it badly, I was able to share some of what I learned and (hopefully) help her feel less alone (2 Corinthians 1:4).
In Philippians 3:12-14, Paul uses the analogy of a runner in a race to describe the Christian life:
Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
A runner who is continually looking behind him will not run a good race. In the same way, rehashing all my mistakes and regrets hinders my progress as a Christian. Instead of celebrating Christ’s sacrifice that covers all my sin, I throw a pride-fueled spotlight on the "perfect" life that could have been mine if I had just done better. We need to continually look forward, with our eyes on Christ, trusting in his grace and mercy.